As summer slowly dwindles to a close, I’ve been attempting to squeeze in as much time for catching up on my favorite TV shows - and, of course, analyzing them from a feminist perspective.
I first started Orphan Black after seeing all of these gifs and fan edits whilst scrolling through my Tumblr dashboard. After trying to avoid the hype for far too long, I gave in. Instantly, I was hooked, and you should be, too.
The series begins with Sarah Manning, a British punk con artist, witnessing a woman’s suicide. However, this isn’t just any suicide. That woman - detective Beth Childs - looks exactly like Sarah, who eventually realizes that she is a clone in a scientific movement gone awry. She eventually meets her other fellow clones: “soccer mom” Alison Hendrix, bisexual graduate student Cosima Niehaus, Sarah’s severely traumatized twin sister Helena, who has suffered through agonizing abuse throughout her life, and several more. All of these wildly different characters are played by one incredibly talented actress, Tatiana Maslany.
This show is much more than just a gripping, action-packed science fiction show. While the thrills of it will leave you breathless, what really shines about Orphan Black is the intricate complexities of the characters.
For example, Sarah, the main character, is more than a con artist living off the streets. As her “tough girl” character develops throughout the seasons, we grow to see how willing she is to sacrifice everything for her daughter, Kira, and attempts to hide the horrors of her world from her daughter. We frequently are able to see beyond her warrior facade, and are able to see the complicated juxtaposition of emotions she copes with. She is fiercely loyal to her other fellow clones, yet feels like Beth’s suicide is somehow her fault.
Cosima - my personal favorite character - has never been the stereotypical gay archetype that tends to persist in much of pop culture today. She is proudly bisexual - a sexuality that has frequently been erased by screenwriters and producers. We see her engage in beautiful relationships with different women; we see her suffer through heartbreak and loss. Not only is Cosima’s sexuality embraced in the show, she is also a brilliant scientist studying the complexities of genetics and microbiology. There is currently a concerning lack of women involved in the STEM fields, but Cosima’s successful career is empowering and inspirational for female watchers everywhere.
While Orphan Black certainly provides us with the “strong women” that we want to see in our TV shows, it does even more than that. That’s why the existence of this show is so significant and necessary - unlike the majority of female characters in today’s entertainment, the women of Orphan Black are more than just part of the “badass” archetype; rather, they are frequently misunderstood and constantly changing. They are realistic, complicated women that female viewers can - consciously or not - end up relating to.
Behind the guns and the dramatic fight scenes, we see these uniquely multi-faceted women love their husbands, their boyfriends/girlfriends, their children, and each other. We see them suffer. We see them dream, we see them make bad decisions. Most importantly, we see them grow. While it’s great to see women in pop culture with badass fighting skills, what we really need to see is more female characters who are painstakingly human, who maybe aren’t immediately the most likable, but with whom we can ultimately empathize and from whom we can learn.